Fisker logo

Always read the fine print before you sign the contract. That platitude is taking on new life as word comes that the winning bidder for bankrupt plug-in hybrid manufacturer Fisker may not actually earn the rights to use the company's name and logo. According to Delaware Online, that's because Fisker Automotive doesn't actually own either – they're the property of a different company called Fisker Coachbuild, LLC, and they have been used under license by the carmaker since 2008.

This interesting bifurcation of assets brings to mind a previous bit of auto history - Rolls-Royce and Vickers.

As it turns out, Fisker Coachbuild not only designs cars and components, it also has the merchandising rights to the Fisker name and logo for things like apparel and branded tchotchkes. How did this happen? According to the report, Coachbuild is a Fisker stockholder, and in 2008, a contract was signed by Bernhard Koehler (co-founder of Fisker and then-chief operating officer of Coachbuild) and designer and company namesake Henrik Fisker. Koehler and Fisker are actually in the logo, in a fashion, since it is supposed to represent the two men (the vertical lines) looking at the sunset (the red half circle) over the ocean (blue).

Fisker Coachbuild attorneys have now put the bankruptcy court on official notice about their ownership of these key assets, and it's unclear if this news will affect the actions of leading bidders Wanxiang America, Inc. and Hybrid Tech Holdings. Coachbuild does sound somewhat conciliatory, saying " is likely that Coachbuild will consent to the assignment of the rights provided for under the Trademark Agreement as part of the proposed sale" while simultaneously "reserving its rights under applicable law to bar the assumption and assignment of Trademark Agreement without its prior written consent."

This interesting bifurcation of assets brings to mind a previous bit of auto history. Back in 1998, British industrial conglomerate Vickers executed a now-legendary bit of wheeling-and-dealing that saw it sell the physical assets of luxury automaker Rolls-Royce to the Volkswagen Group. We say 'legendary' because it only sold the physical assets to VW – not the trademarks associated with them. Those trademarks included the Rolls-Royce name, famed double-R iconography and other assets – assets Vickers subsequently sold to BMW. It was a coup for both Vickers and BMW, and left VW execs red-faced and determined to make Bentley (a brand whose trademarks it did successfully acquire in the Rolls deal) its premiere luxury brand.